There's being alone with your thoughts and there's relying on your thoughts to keep you buoyant through fierce challenges; Wild is about being faced with the inescapable you. Oscar winner Reece Witherspoon and director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Dallas Buyers Club) take us on a journey that's as much about navigating the wilderness of internal torment as it is about facing an extraordinary physical test.
When Cheryl's (Reese Witherspoon) mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) dies, it sends her life into a tail spin. When she arrives at her rock bottom, she decides sets out upon a cathartic hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
Mr. Vallée has a hauntingly beautiful directorial style. Of course the landscape is its own sublime natural allure, but he's able to put characters into storms of their own internal torment. Mr. Vallée crafts the wilderness of the trail as the cage that encloses Cheryl's war with her past and who she needs to become. The desert scrub or the thick forest never seems to be as ominous as the apparitions of Cheryl's past recklessness. Screenwriter Nick Hornby, (novelist who famously penned High Fidelity, About a Boy) submerges you in the echoes of Cheryl's mind that seem to reverberate louder and with greater intensity the longer that she's on the trail. With every additional step, she's peeling back the defences and the bullshit.
It's very easy to see why Ms. Witherspoon was desperate to get an opportunity to get to portray Cheryl. She's a character that has to infer a lot of the torment that she faced as she's trudging over the trail and then go back to the different seminal moments of Cheryl's life as, what could almost be wholly different characters. She's the sweet collegiate attempting to use her intellect to elevate herself from the class lines that have previously defined her. In the wake of her mother Bobbi's passing she abandons the pursuit of a career, a marriage to Thomas Sadoski's Paul, and takes solace in the comfort of drugs and sex. Mr. Sadoski does a great job of demonstrating the pathway toward the life that she originally conceived for herself and the collateral damage Cheryl left behind. Fragile and fierce, it's Ms. Witherspoon at near June Carter Cash (her character in Walk the Line that she earned an Oscar with) level good.
Ms. Dern's performance is central to the success of Wild. She's such a wholly incredible and warm single mother, working tirelessly to make the lives of her children better in the wake of an abusive marriage and minimum wage. She's a model for finding the magic and the marvel, and therefore the richness, in life. As we see Bobbi's unfair diagnoses we understand how profoundly she impacted Cheryl. If Bobbi hadn't have been so beautifully realised by Ms. Dern and Mr. Valée; Cheryl's crises doesn't make any sense.
Wild is about the profound power of nature to provide space to reset yourself. Changing is easy in the deafening quiet; Ms. Witherspoon gives us a glimpse into Cheryl's impenetrable soul.
[rating=3] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Nick Hornby (based on the memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" Cheryl Strayed)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
Reese Witherspoon ... Cheryl
Laura Dern ... Bobbi
Thomas Sadoski ... Paul